By Shane Stokes in Palermo
The Astana team arrived in Palermo for the Giro d'Italia after a last minute scramble to assemble the team together for the first Grand Tour of the year, and while the team's preparation was not ideal, it is still heading into the race with high hopes.
Due to their last-minute invite, the Astana team has had very little time to physically and mentally prepare for the Giro d'Italia. The riders had originally been refused an invite for the Italian race plus the Tour de France, and so they set about targeting races that they might otherwise have used as preparation for the Grand Tours.
Team leaders Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden have all been in winning form in 2008; the question is if they can prolong that condition and turn it into a general classification victory in three weeks' time.
Leipheimer spoke to Cyclingnews at the presentation of the teams, and said that he was cautiously optimistic that he could ride well. "My form is alright. I was third in Georgia, so it is not bad," he stated.
"I have always wanted to do the Giro. I think it is a great race and I have a lot of respect for it. For that reason, I would have liked to have had more time to prepare, but nonetheless I am very excited to be here."
On paper at least, he, Contador and Klöden are three of the strongest riders in the race. All have finished on the Tour de France podium, with the Spaniard winning last year's race. Their preparation was not ideal, but he's hoping that their class will show through.
"We have a very good team. We have our best riders here, so while I said it is short notice, I think it is possible that we could win the race."
Directeur sportif Sean Yates was also hopeful of some good results. "We didn't have much notice," he said, echoing Leipheimer's sentiments. "It is not ideal. However we are a group of professionals and I expect some good results and performances."
The team will start with the three big guns on an equal level, then tactics and strategy will be modified to favour whoever is the strongest. "We will decide who leads as we go along," he stated. "It is a long race; it is a long way to Milan and it is a tough one, so we will see.
"Obviously this race was not on Alberto's plans at all. Klöden has just come off a good result so on paper perhaps he has the best chance. It is a long way, we will see."